Friday, 17 October 2008

Joan Bennett 1910 - 1990


To celebrate the 50th entry in my blog I'm going to devote it entirely to Joan in honour of Orlando, my Marlowe, my partner in vintage crime.



Well, you learn something new every day. Joan Bennett and Constand Bennett were sisters. You'd think I'd know that, but I didn't. Apparently from a theatrical family, daughters of a stage matinee idol (I have no ide what that means) called Richard Bennett who was well-known for his "high-spirited antics with friends John and Lionel Barrymore" Well I can guess what that means: they got drunk and annoyed the other guests at the party.


Richard Bennett playing Father Anselm in "A Royal Family"



Constance Bennett

Before I go on, here's my favourite glamour Hollywood photo of all time, of Joan, taken by Hurrell of course.



Richard Bennett was famous for having battles with critics of the day and wrote scathing letters not only when they panned his performances but when they praised them as well. The entire Bennett family was known for their arguments with the press. Once during a well-publicized dispute, Joan had a de-scented skunk delivered to powerful Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper. (Who would have thought it? She looks so fragile.)



Constance Bennett was as assertive with studio heads as she was with the press. While negotiating a contract with Warner Brothers, being the shrewd, clever businesswoman that she was, Constance insisted that Jack Warner pay her agents fee and income tax as well as her high salary. If a male actor had managed this deal in the thirties it would have been unusual. For a woman to manage such a thing in those days was unheard of. What actor today could get the studio to pay his or her income tax off the top? When it was once commented that Constance could not take her money with her, her father Richard said, "If Constance can't take it with her, then she won't go."

(btw: I'm giving you the juiciest bits from this article)



Joan Bennett never had any desire to become an actress, she wished only to be a wife and mother. (Little fool) Joan married Jack Fox at the age of 16, became a mother at 17 and was divorced by the time she was 18 years old. (I bet she stopped being a little fool at this point) In order to support herself and her baby, Joan decided to try acting until something better came along.

Joan went through two phases in her film career. During the thirties, resembling a golden-haired porcelain doll, Joan usually played the innocent ingénue. The most memorable of these roles was her portrayal of Amy in Little Women (1933).




The second phase of her career began with the film Trade Winds (1938) where a new raven-haired Joan appeared. "After that film everyone liked me in dark hair," explained Joan, "so I turned my hair dark and have received much better parts ever since."




(OK, while I like the theory that her career being in two parts, blonde and doll-like, brunettee and fatal, how do you explain all thesse pictures of her looking very blonde but far from innocent?)

Because of her "glamorous, new brunette look" as well as her exceptional talent, Joan was very seriously considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind, Joan claimed the part would have been hers had Vivien Leigh stayed in England. (Every actress in Hollywood was considered for the part and thought she would have got it if not for that pesky Leigh)

The 1940s and 1950s were the "film noir" decades. It was during the forties that Joan Bennett, alluring and husky voiced, found her niche as a film noir femme fatale. Fritz Lang directed the films which were among the highpoints of her career beginning with Man Hunt (1941) where Joan gave perhaps her most poignant performance as a Cockney prostitute with a heart of gold. The next two Lang films both co-starred Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea, The Woman In The Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1946) where Joan played "Lazy Legs". (Great name!)


Two of her best films were Ernest Hemingway's The Macomber Affair (1947) again as a devious wife and she gave a multi-faceted portrayal of a blackmail victim of James Mason in The Reckless Moment (1949).

Just one year after giving birth to her daughter Shelley, Joan Bennett became a grandmother at the age of 39 when her eldest daughter Diana became a mother. Marlene Dietrich, consistently referred to as "The World's Most Glamorous Grandmother" sent Joan a telegram saying "Thanks for taking the heat off."



Almost directly from film noir, Joan segued into playing Spencer Tracy's wife and Elizabeth Taylor's mother in the thoroughly charming family comedies Father of the Bride and Father's Little Dividend. It was during this time, that Joan Bennett became involved in a scandal that she once said "destroyed my career in the motion picture industry".



Joan's husband producer Walter Wanger in a blinded, jealous rage shot and wounded her agent Jennings Lang in a parking lot. Wanger went to prison for four months. Lang fortunately recovered and the Wangers eventually divorced in 1965. Joan once said "I might as well have pulled the trigger myself" because after the shooting incident she was virtually blacklisted. Joan made only five films in the decade that followed. Like her sister Constance, Joan turned successfully to the stage.


In addition to the stage, Joan Bennett also found success in television. For five years Joan had a role on the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows which brought a whole new following of fans who remain loyal to this day.



n 1978 Joan married movie critic David Wilde who remained her husband until the end of her life. In December 1990, Joan Bennett passed away at the age of 80. Joan was survived by four daughters, Diana Anderson, Melinda Bena, Stephanie Guest and Shelley Wanger and 13 grandchildren. In her beautifully written book The Bennett Playbill, Joan wrote: "I'm aware of the priceless privilege of having been born into the theater. Although it was a career I rejected at first, the profession has given me an incredibly varied life and more than my fair share of success, failure, love, laughter and despair. I've not a single regret for any of it."



I was going to add a filmography (what a bloody clumsy word that is) but it's so vast that you can look it up yourself at IMDB



Finally a quote from Joan herself: "I don't think much of most of the films I made, but being a movie star was something I liked very much."

Enough witter, enjoy the photos










2 comments:

Orlando said...

Thanks so much, my lovely friend, for this complete and amazing post about one of my favorite actress of all time.

I read your post for four times and is marvelous!!!

I'll mix a Martini for you... ;)

TheMovieNess said...

Lovely post! Oh, and I really want to have the dress from the first picture:)